LONG BEACH, Miss. (AP) — It was a championship week for Ashton Rupert, who helped her Long Beach High School team win the first round of volleyball playoffs on Oct. 12 and played in her school’s varsity football game Oct. 15 after being crowned homecoming queen.
All week leading up to the homecoming ceremony, fellow students came up and told her, “Ashton, I think it’s going to be you,” she said.
The senior said she wasn’t focused on whether she would be this year’s queen, although she said playing four sports likely gave her an edge. Rupert said she spent the week running from volleyball to soccer to football practice. She also plays softball, and said she was happy just to be on the homecoming court.
She isn’t the first on the Mississippi Coast to accomplish both. In 2018, Kaylee Foster was a kicker at Ocean Springs High School and was the homecoming queen.
“It’s more than just playing football,” Rupert said. She wears jersey number 99 and is the only kicker on the boys’ varsity team.
It’s more than the choice to represent the school as homecoming queen, she said. After being nominated, she made it to the top 5 finalists that were voted on by the entire student body in grades 9-12.
It’s really about other people, she said, giving those you genuinely care about your everything and making people happy.
What she does and how she plays inspires the middle school students she helps coach in soccer, she said, even while playing on four teams herself, leading her school’s Christian athlete organization and making As in school.
Those kids look up to her, Rupert said, and tell her they want to grow up to be just like her.
DRESSED OUT AND DRESSED UP
“Super exciting,” is how Rupert describes the events of homecoming week. Last year’s event was small and sparsely attended during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year she was able to ride in the parade, take part in the pep rally and attend the dance with her friends.
Her parents joined her on the field as she was announced as the queen. Photos taken with the king, West Bourland, show her wearing her crown while dressed up in a red gown, her long, blonde hair styled and a bouquet of red roses in her arms.
“I changed right after the ceremony and ran out and started warm-up,” she said.
Another photo with her wearing the crown shows her dressed out in her new football uniform and holding her helmet.
She was more comfortable getting the picture in her uniform, she said than in the red dress.
“That’s where my comfort zone is,” she said.
WHAT A KICK
Last year, a coach filling in on the boys’ football team saw Rupert in action as the girls’ soccer goalie.
“I see you kicking that ball 40 yards into the wind,” Rupert said he told her, and invited her to see what she could do with a football. She went out one day during lunch and tried out for a spot as the kicker.
She had to refine her soccer kick, she said, to be able to kick off and punt the football.
“I practiced a lot this summer,” she said, taking the field, even when the boys were gone, and spending her days going from soccer to volleyball to football.
The extra practice and cross training helped her in other sports.
“I kick the soccer ball a lot harder than I used to,” she said.
THE GUYS ON HER TEAM
Rupert said her father didn’t want her on the boys’ team.
“Football is the only sport my dad said no to,” she said.
“My mom really pushed for it,” she said. “Even as a kid I said, ‘I want to be a football kicker.’”
Both parents are in the stands cheering her on and out there catching footballs for her as she practices.
“They’re my rocks in life. We do this together,” she said.
And they’re not the only one watching out for her.
“My team and especially my coaches are very protective of me,” she said. “It’s like having a bunch of brothers and dads I can call at any time.”
She also has an extra layer of protection on the field. Her boyfriend is on the offensive and defensive line.
“He’s actually on the field whenever I’m kicking,” she said.
AN INSPIRING FUTURE
The last game of her short football career is Nov. 4, which Rupert said is senior night.
Even before that, she has a few college visits coming up with coaches who contacted her or she reached out to.
She has solid plans to continue playing soccer and studying physical education.
“I want to be a middle school PE (physical education) teacher and coach soccer,” she said.